The best piece of advice is to make sure that you know who you are dealing with. Get recommendations if possible and use common sense. Property management companies are the middlemen who broker most transactions in the ‘grey’ area.
By law, their fees are meant to be a percentage of the rental charge, but this is rarely respected. Two times the monthly rent in addition to a move-in fee, which again may be three monthly rents, are quite common. The market is to a great extent controlled by the agencies, so you will probably end up dealing with one at some point.
It is important to remember that hiring an agency does not guarantee that the offered flats are actually inhabitable. You should always visit the prospective apartments several times. If there are problems it is hard to make any claim. A legal challenge, where possible, is painful as it can take three years to resolve a dispute in the courts. You will also incur legal fees and even if you win, collecting court awards is often difficult or impossible.
When you engage a Czech agency, they should:
- provide you with a description (first-hand) of the available properties with details of the property, contract, amenities and photos, etc.
- escort you to view the properties you have selected and make sure you get what you want
- make sure your contract complies the current jurisdiction
Common problems are things like agents not turning up for appointments or flats which you have selected suddenly not being available anymore.
Sometimes you may be asked to pay a holding fee. This is essentially an advance the agent will keep for the privilege of showing a flat. You should never pay that. Additionally, you may be asked to sign an agreement not to negotiate with the flat owner or another agency, before you have seen a flat. Again, do not sign that either.
When viewing a flat you may be pressured to take it immediately and you may be led to believe that there is a long queue of people desperate to get it. This might be true for really good offers but a reputable agency will not force you to make an immediate decision.
It might also happen that the property shown to you may not correspond to the description or photos. In this case there is not much you can do but simply walk off.
If the agency represents an owner it might happen that they ask the owner to pay a fee. This can be an unpleasant surprise to the owner as he may have been promised a free service from the agent. You might be able to guess what happens next. Yes, the owner will charge you.
Some tips for advertising and dealing with owners
The best advice for dealing with problems is to be tough and to make sure that you lay out the rules clearly in advance. If something starts going wrong, clearly demonstrate that you will walk away and find someone else to help out – loss of fees tends to focus minds.
If you can avoid it, don’t let people know you are a foreigner until you know the price of the place, otherwise you may well be offered a “special price”. In the same way, don’t say you have a budget of up to ten thousand Crowns per month as this will mean everything will cost ten thousand.
You will probably need to explain to the landlord what type of visa you have and what you are doing in the Czech Republic to put their mind at rest that everything is legal. One thing to bear in mind is that you may need proof of your living arrangements to process visa or residency applications in the first place. Make sure your landlord is prepared to give you this if you need it.
If you don’t want to deal with an agency, state ‘no agencies – owners only’ on any ads you put up and then it might also be worth checking again when someone calls you. When putting up an ad, state each requirement separately and clearly: furnished/non-furnished, number of bedrooms, kitchen & bathroom requirements, which neighbourhoods, how long you are looking to rent for, aversion to animals, etc.
When you agree to rent a flat, you will have to pay the 1 to 2 month’s rent in agency fees.